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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Trump Brags about "Fantastic Job" in Puerto Rico; Florida GOP Governor Nominee Under Fire for "Monkey" Comment; Trump Warns of Violence if Democrats Win Midterms. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you, J.B.

I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.

The man of the moment in politics is the first African-American nominee for governor in the state of Florida, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum. He is here, and he's already taking it to President Trump on Twitter. How did he get his big win, and how will he answer the tough questions for him ahead in a race that started today with Trump's hand-picked nominee saying Florida shouldn't monkey this up by electing Gillum.

The death toll in Puerto Rico, according to the government, is now historic. It is the worst natural disaster death toll in 100 years. The response by Trump, equally jaw-dropping. He hears the number and says we did great. Why aren't our leaders stepping up? And the storm that may be coming their way.

And the president does it again, this time in front of cameras, warning about violence if his party loses the midterms. Why is he inciting fear for votes?

Man, there's a lot to get straight tonight. What do you say? Let's get after it.

(MUSIC)

CUOMO: We all know that Florida matters in a big way in national elections. And now, the governor's race there sets up as a clash of contrasts. Trump's pick, Congressman Ron DeSantis, on the GOP side, and now, the Democratic side had a major upset last night.

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came out on top. Like I said, but it bears being said twice, he's the first African-American nominee for governor in that state. And he's already taking Trump on online.

Mr. Mayor, welcome to PRIME TIME.

MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GOBERNATURIAL NOMINEE: Hey. Good evening, Chris. Thank you so much for having me.

CUOMO: How'd you do it?

GILLUM: Well, I tell you, 18 months of slow and steady, retail politics all over this state. I went to red areas, blue areas, purple areas of this state, introduced myself, and asked the voters of the state of Florida for a chance.

CUOMO: No poll --

GILLUM: We organized --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: No poll, Mr. Mayor, had you above I think like 19 percent right up until people went in to actually cast their votes. What did they get wrong in the polls?

GILLUM: Well, I -- that's why I continuously told voters, the only poll that matters is the one on election day. We worked feverishly at the ground level, trying to enlist and engage and organize voters all over the state and it really paid off in a big way last night.

CUOMO: You are known for speaking truth to power. You took on the state as a mayor in Tallahassee. Now, you're going at Trump directly on Twitter. Why poke the bear?

GILLUM: Well, in fairness, he poked me. We just wanted to let him know we're prepared to poke back.

CUOMO: There's a lot of poking.

GILLUM: This president it appears gets off on intimidating and pushing people around. But I want him to know he's met his match. We're not here to be pushed around. Not here in the state of Florida, and largely because the folks in this state are focused on the issues that matter.

We want to make sure that folks get access to good health care, good education. We've got algae blooms flowing out of the east and the west side of this state under the dereliction of Republican control of the state of Florida. Yet, the governor has said -- the president has said nothing about that to this governor. So, we want him to know that. If he wants to engage in this state, he needs to engage constructively, but divisive rhetoric will meet its match here.

CUOMO: And you have a new crop of voters from Puerto Rico who fled that forgotten island, and they learned very disturbing information about the death toll there and how it's not being met by any urgency by our leadership here. Is that something that you take on as governor?

GILLUM: Yes, of course. Obviously, Florida is home to the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans outside of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We take very seriously what it means to be real friends and allies to our neighbors and certainly for those who choose the state of Florida as home, we want to make sure we treat them well. These are U.S. citizens.

This president has been completely derelict in his responsibility to respond to that crisis. As governor of the state of Florida, it's my commitment to be a strong governor who supports not only the commonwealth of Puerto Rico but Puerto Ricans and those in the larger Puerto Rican Diaspora who are concerned about the recovery effort which has taken far too long.

CUOMO: Now, you have a tone issue about what this race will be like between you and Congressman DeSantis. Here's what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: He is an articulate spokesman for those far left views, and he's a charismatic candidate. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Monkey this up. What does that mean to you?

GILLUM: Well, I'll try to be articulate, Chris, and simply say that that kind of vitriol, and he's apparently given up the whistle, they've gone to the bullhorn with these kinds of tactics. But they're not going to work.

We tried this one time, Donald Trump. This is a page from his playbook, basically tried to divide this country and my state. And I want them to know that Florida voters are smarter than that, that we're going to reject the politics of separation, that there's a higher North Star.

CUOMO: You don't agree with his campaign statement, Mr. Mayor, that he didn't mean that by it, that's not the way it was meant?

GILLUM: Well, I --

CUOMO: Here's the statement, just so for the audience. He was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd.

You disagree?

GILLUM: Well, I -- look, I don't know the phrase. Looking at the whole clip, I think he was clear about what he meant. He understood the dog whistle that he was blowing. And I understand that he intends to speak to a particular part of the base to incite them.

CUOMO: Right.

GILLUM: But the truth is I think there are a majority of us who disagree with that brand of politics.

CUOMO: Now, your big sell is going to be on your policies. Expensive -- that's the word that might get attached to what you want to do. I know that it sounds well. I know they're largely popular in principle. But how do you pay for Medicare for all in a state that is already

looking at a potential big budget deficit? It'll break the bank. That's the criticism.

GILLUM: Yes. Well, the budget deficit in this state is going to be largely driven by the great big tax giveaways that Republicans have pursued nearly every legislative session that I can remember. We know the fastest growing part of the state's budget is its health care costs.

We also know that this governor failed to expand Medicaid for over 700,000 of the most medically needy people in this state, leaving $6 billion alone last year on the table, money that could have come from the federal government to help prop up that system, while here in the state of Florida we have a nursing shortage. We can't find enough nurses to go into the field.

And I think largely because we have failed to step up to that task.

Listen, I believe -- obviously at my level as governor, we have the ability to expand Medicaid with the work and cooperation of the legislature --

CUOMO: If the federal government will still give it to you. And if they keep doing what they're doing on the federal level, the transition costs for your state -- I understand that there are studies that say over time Medicare for all would reduce costs, have a healthier population, change co-pays. But the transition costs are crippling.

That's why one of your supporters, Bernie Sanders, his home state tried it and they couldn't get it done because the tax increases that are necessary, crippling.

GILLUM: Yes. Well, let me tell you. I think for Florida to move in that direction, we would have to do it as a confederation of states. We could not do it by ourselves solely here in the state of Florida because it would collapse the system. We would only attract the sickest of patients and it wouldn't work.

But could you imagine if we could team up with the states of New York, California, Florida, maybe even Texas even, Illinois and other progressive thinking states and bargain on behalf of the citizens.

Listen, people are terrified of getting sick. They're terrified of getting sick because if they get sick, they can't go to work. And if they can't go to work, they can't earn a wage --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Paycheck away from poverty if they get sick. I understand it, but the question is how do you pay for --

GILLUM: Middle class, upper class, yes, well, again, as I said before, Chris --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: That's the challenge for you. And look, I know it's a long discussion. I like that confederacy of states. I haven't heard that before. I'll have to think through how that would work. You know, we have all these people who are experts who help us understand what different machinations will mean. I'm going to come back to you on that.

I want to ask you if you can make a promise to your voters who are watching tonight. You've said in the past, I'm not worried about this FBI probe of Tallahassee City Hall, I'm not a target. We've heard that talk about not being a target. That may not be enough.

Can you promise the voters of Florida they will learn nothing that is disqualifying about you from the FBI probe?

GILLUM: Yes, well, I can absolutely confirm that to be the case because I know my actions. I've served for 15 years without so much as a stain on my reputation or name up until I decided to run for governor.

But I will tell you this. The difference between Ron DeSantis and me on how we deal with the FBI is in my case we said welcome, please, if there is something that is going on that is untoward do whatever investigation is necessary and if someone has done something wrong, we want to support you in making sure that they're held fully accountable.

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have undermined the FBI. They've done everything that they could to cut them off at the knees, even going so far as to suggest something nefarious, a deep state even, when undermining the important work of the bureau. That's not how we've approached it in our community.

And I would also say that the city of Tallahassee is not under FBI investigation. There may be an individual, but certainly the city has been fully cooperative and we're going to continue to be so until we get to the bottom of it.

CUOMO: All right. I wanted to put that question to you so the voters can hear it. And I'll make you a promise in return. We've reached out to Congressman DeSantis. This race is going to have a lot of attention on it. Florida matters in a lot of ways.

You are welcome back on this show to discuss what matters to the citizens there. We'll do it more than once. I promise you that.

GILLUM: I look forward to it. Thanks so much, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Mayor Andrew Gillum, thank you.

Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-five are dead in Puerto Rico. That's why I brought it up with Mayor Gillum. It's not over. It's worse than we ever imagined.

Hurricane Maria didn't kill dozens. Thousands is what we're talking about. Did you hear how the president and our leaders in Congress reacted to this news? It tells you everything you need to know, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. The official death toll in Puerto Rico was 64. The government there commissioned a study. The result (AUDIO GAP) 2,975.

The difference is staggering. It reflects the most American deaths in a century from a natural disaster, in a century. That's a level of unprecedented despair for Americans to suffer. And this news has been met with a shrug.

Why aren't our leaders asking how did they get it so wrong? Instead the president met the news by saying how he got it so right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico. We're still helping Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was actually more difficult because of the fact it's an island, it's much harder to get things onto the island. I only hope they don't get hit again because they were hit by two right in a row. Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Well, that's not how the mayor of San Juan sees it. Here's what she said just hours before the president spoke today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: The Trump administration (AUDIO GAP) with neglect. Shame on President Trump (AUDIO GAP) once, not even yesterday just saying look, I grieve for the people of Puerto Rico. Shame on him.

Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dead? Is that what he's proud of? Is he proud of that maybe this is over now and he thinks it's going to go away? Well, it's not going to go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: And remember, the president used to see death toll rightly as the crucial measure for the level of crisis in Puerto Rico. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering. Nobody's ever seen anything like this. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what's taken place in Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: So just listen to that. Boy, if it were like Katrina, forget it, we would have something that is just unimaginable. What a catastrophe.

And he's right. That was a catastrophe. I was there. Katrina, 1,833. Horrible. Hurricane Maria.

Now, they can talk all they want about how these studies are measuring lethality in a way -- whatever. This is the number. Even if you cut it considerably, it is still a tremendous and unexplained loss of life. So, what happened to the sense of urgency?

And you know, the president's not the only one, OK? This tendency to isolate power. No. What about the people that we elected to check the executive? Hello, Congress.

The Republican-controlled Congress in recent years has held hearings on all sorts of partisan issues. Benghazi, climate change is a hoax. Planned Parenthood is a problem. Whether or not President Obama was deporting enough people.

You know, really big things that should consume our tax dollars. But a disaster that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans, one hearing they've had so far. Katrina? Thirty-two. How?

Our leaders might as well say, listen, we just don't care that much. Now, why would I say that? Because they are not doing and not saying things in a way that speaks just as loudly. And here's a booster shot in the ass for action.

Puerto Rico is part of America. They can vote. They can come here and they can register. And they are.

A lot of them moved to Florida to escape the hell on the forgotten island. You think they aren't watching? Think again.

Gillum versus Trump is now a big match-up in Florida. Who's going to win? Well, all those who fled Puerto Rico make their voices heard. We're going to put it up for a great debate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: So what was going on with Florida's white Republican nominee for Governor Ron DeSantis? Was he just careless with his words when he said let's not monkey up the situation? Or was it what Mayor Gillum, the Democratic nominee, thinks, that it was a dog whistle?

First, let's start with what he said. Here are the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: He is an articulate spokesman for those far left views, and he's a charismatic candidate. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Gillum didn't like being called articulate, by the way. He believes that's code. Why do African-American men have to be described as articulate when he's the mayor of a major city? Of course he would be articulate.

But it's that second phrase. That is the start of our great debate.

Angela Rye, Steve Cortes.

Steve Cortes, what did you hear?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I heard a candidate speaking really carelessly. I think that Ron DeSantis has some great things going for him. First, I think he has the best resume of any young politician I've ever seen.

I think he has an opposition candidate who is far to the left of the state of Florida. One might even say a little bit to the left of Chairman Mao.

CUOMO: Deal with the monkey thing.

CORTES: However, he can squander those disadvantages -- excuse me, those advantages, if he speaks this way again. I don't believe there's racism in his heart --

CUOMO: Why didn't he apologize?

CORTES: There's certainly no pattern of that. I think he should apologize.

I think he should apologize and I think also, Chris, he needs to up his game. He needs to get ready. This race has been nationalized, right? And that was a pretty friendly interview. He's going to face much more hostile interviews the way I do on your show quite a bit.

So, he needs to up his game. I think he will. I think he can. It's very early. The voters can be forgiving.

You know, also as somebody who is on live television as you are, as Angela is every day, I know I say things sometimes that sound very different than I meant. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. That's what happened here.

CUOMO: Angela?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not surprised that Steve is giving him the benefit of the doubt. What I am surprised by is Steve's comparison of my good friend of almost 15 years Andrew Gillum to Chairman Mao. I certainly have never seen Andrew try to suggest or even enact any such policies that could be compared to him.

But I would say I don't see anything wrong with somebody finally being able to pay their bills when there was just a study that just came out that said 6 in 10 Americans cannot pay their bills. They cannot make ends meet. They're worried about their lights being turned off. They're worried about being able to put food on the table.

It is not socialism to ensure that people can work one job finally. It's not socialism, Chris, to ensure that teachers are finally paid what they're worth. It is not socialism to call for transportation infrastructure that works for the state of Florida.

Those are the kinds of things that Andrew is calling for. Those are the reasons why Andrew was able to be a consensus builder in this race. And he did not galvanize the far left.

Andrew had the support as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton and he has the support of Bernie Sanders. Those are two people who are on polar opposite sides of what is deemed the left. And he's galvanized those people.

That is why it was offensive for him to be called a charismatic spokesperson when he has a body of work to stand on.

Steve, you talked about this candidate Ron who has this quite a resume. Well, I don't understand how you go to two Ivy League schools and end up three times as stupid. He should have never said what he said about Andrew.

Andrew went to -- he went to Tallahassee's FAMU and he has a body of work to stand on being the youngest elected ever to the Tallahassee City Commission, going on to be the mayor and being the first African- American Democratic nominee in the state of Florida. He will go on to be the first black governor as well.

CUOMO: What do you think makes the decision in the race, Steve?

CORTES: I think it's going to be the Florida economy. I really do. And Florida, the economy nationally is doing great.

In Florida, it's doing even better. The economy of Florida if it were its own country, GDP just passed a trillion dollars. That means it's wealthier if it were a country than Saudi Arabia, than Switzerland. Florida is thriving under the Trump growth boom of tax cuts and deregulation.

CUOMO: Are you worried about the Puerto Rican vote? Are you worried about the Puerto Rican vote and the population that got butchered by not getting the Medicaid expansion?

CORTES: I -- on the Puerto Rican issue, first -- look, the death toll there was an absolute tragedy. But I think neither the mayor nor the congressman had anything to do with either the tragedy itself or the response --

CUOMO: No, but the congressman is Trump's guy and Trump --

RYE: That's right.

CUOMO: -- said we did great right when he heard that more people than we've seen die from a natural disaster in 100 years died in a place where he thought it was just dozens and he said the death toll was basically dispositive of the level of crisis when he was down there. Do you think that hurts DeSantis?

CORTES: But that's the information he had then, Chris. We can't fault him for having --

CUOMO: No, he got it today when he said we did great down there.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: He said we did great after he heard that number, Steve. Own it.

CORTES: I agree with you by the way, when you talked about congressional inquiry. I think that is an atrocity, right? The fact that Katrina was as investigated as it was and that this tragedy in Puerto Rico and the response have not been.

So, I think you're very right there. We need more scrutiny. A whole lot of Americans died. Was it purely terrible luck and Mother Nature at her worst, or could we have done a lot better and could we learn from it in the future? That should absolutely be looked into.

CUOMO: So, Angela, you were down there. I saw your videos. I follow you on Instagram.

And this -- people didn't see this coming. People named Chris Cuomo, by the way. I didn't see it coming.

People were telling me don't sleep on Gillum, don't sleep on Gillum, he's got the grassroots, the polls aren't picking it up.

I didn't believe it. I didn't think he had the money. I didn't think he had the organization. I was wrong.

This race could get very ugly. If this is the kind of language we hear right out of the box, do you think Gillum is up for that kind of challenge?

RYE: I know he's up to that kind of challenge, Chris. And if this surprised you, you should have talked to your good friend on Instagram. I could have definitely told you do not underestimate --

CUOMO: I can't get through. You have too many followers. You should be like me and only have a handful. It's much easier to communicate.

RYE: You can e-mail me. But you should never underestimate the underdog. This is a bat that will Andrew has been fighting his whole life.

They told him from the very beginning that he didn't go to the right schools, that he didn't come from the right family, that he didn't look the right way, but he's always risen above it. And I think that he really is demonstrative of the American dream that so many people in this country, not just black folks, not just white folks, brown folks, including the Puerto Rican people that we're talking about coming here to try to re-establish a life and gain their footing really want to have on their side. That's the kind of champion this country really needs. And it's a

story that's so hopeful. I said on Don's program last night, I am so inspired by this. I was completely down and out from 2016. Maybe political depression.

But I'm really inspired by this, by Stacy and so many others who are saying you know what, it's time for us to get in the game in a real way, we can represent states. And I hope the Democrats really take a note from this playbook and say maybe the people we've been trying to run statewide as kind of Republican but we'll put them in Democratic clothes doesn't really work. If you really ask people to vote their values and what they really believe in, I think these are the kind of candidates we'll get and it's amazing.

CUOMO: Steve, let me ask you something. Let me press my luck. You say you think DeSantis should have apologized for what he said. Fair point.

Do you think the president should apologize for saying if the GOP loses in the midterms, there will be violence? First of all, if you win, you don't have to be upset about it. There's no reason to act out.

But violence? Why stoke that kind of fear?

CORTES: I'll tell you why. He's not stoking fear. He's recognizing the reality out there. The very unfortunate reality in America is that political violence is on the rise --

CUOMO: If you win?

CORTES: -- on both the right and the left. Look, it may be regardless but it may even be more so if Republicans win. Yes. Because they might feel more --

CUOMO: No, he says if we lose it's going to be violent. Preachers, he said. Preachers, help me in the pulpit because if we lose, they are going to be violent. They're violent people.

CORTES: Yes. And by the way, a lot of them are.

CUOMO: Who's them?

CORTES: And Antifa is who he was talking about -- Antifa is them. Chris, look, when people, when a thug puts on a mask, OK, whether that mask is a racist Klansman's hood or whether it is a radical Antifa's black mask -- first of all, when you put on a mask and it's not Halloween, you're up to no good clearly.

But when they do that and they resort to political violence, which has been done --

CUOMO: Right.

CORTES: -- on both sides, it is totally unacceptable in decent society in America -- CUOMO: Who disagrees with that? If you break the law and you're a

rioter and you're a thug and criminal, what does have to do with what happens if you lose the election?

CORTES: You know who disagrees with it? You know who disagrees, unfortunately, Chris? You do.

CUOMO: What?

CORTES: Because you equivocated on this very point on your show.

CUOMO: I never equivocated on anything.

CORTES: You had to explain that you said that their violence is different --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You let your righty mouth twist my words for effect to enhance a bigoted agenda.

CORTES: No, I'm not.

CUOMO: And now, you're going to sell it. It's a mistake on this show.

I said very clearly and people can check my words, you break the law you're a criminal and a thug. I said don't create a moral equation between those who preach hate and those who fight it because not all punches are equal. And I stand by that.

But I never endorsed Antifa. Don't sell B.S. to my face. Do it behind my back where you're better at it.

CORTES: No, Chris. I'll do it to your face. Antifa, by the way, hates a whole lot. If you watch the Antifa lies --

CUOMO: I'm not pro-Antifa. I don't even know who makes up the organization. And if they break the law they're criminals. And this is what I'm talking about.

CORTES: Don't say they're not -- don't say they're anti-hate.

CUOMO: Your wave of -- listen, this is my point, Steve. You know if you looked at the words, which unfortunately we both know you didn't. You read your little buddies at Breitbart and the little niche places that you say need to have more time on Google. And you came up with Cuomo didn't beat down Antifa enough. Untrue.

I said if you break the law, you're a criminal. It's not good enough for you guys. You know why? You want to divide. And I'm wondering if it will work for you.

CORTES: Chris, you also said that Antifa -- you said Antifa is fighting hate. And I'm saying Antifa --

CUOMO: No. I said those who fight hate. I didn't say Antifa. Look at the words. I beat you didn't.

Final word to Angela Rye.

CORTES: Well, the president --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You have three misstatements. That's it. You're in the box.

Angela Rye, final word to you.

RYE: Yes, here's the biggest problem. Donald Trump read an old Snopes piece where they debunked this whole thing. They said that Antifa was calling for a civil war.

That's not real. That's fake news. And I know as much as you all like to say, Steve, right, like alternative facts and truth is not truth, it actually is. And facts still matter.

So I would encourage you all to understand the importance of fighting violence on all sides. No one that sets foot on this network condones violence. All violence begets violence.

We cannot endorse it. We cannot support it. There's no room for it. Maybe you all can stop with the talking points now.

CUOMO: Listen, Steve, I'll make it easy for you, because obviously I have no problem backing up what I say on television. Look at what I said. And look at how it was reported.

And what you're going to see is an extension of an ugliness that we don't need. If I wanted to be unfair, I wouldn't have you on the show. I have you on a lot because I want to hear what you have to say.

CORTES: I agree with that part.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You find where I said I back Antifa dinner's on me. Whatever you want. And I know you've got a big appetite.

Angela Rye, you buy your own dinner.

RYE: Jesus. Wow.

CUOMO: With that big following on Instagram, you don't need my help.

Have a good night both of you. Thank you, Angela Rye and Steve Cortes.

RYE: Thank you.

CUOMO: So, look, the fact is the fact. Three thousand people almost died in Puerto Rico. The president hears the number and says we did a fantastic job responding to that storm. How? How do you say that? What matters when you say something like that?

We're going to ask one of his closest confidants, Corey Lewandowski, and gets his take on the news of the day, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: So after drawing racism claims for using the phrase "monkey this up" and trashing Andrew Gillum, Florida's Republican nominee for governor, Don DeSantis -- Ron DeSantis now says he was talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist.

So why didn't he just say that? And -- and now that he knows it was taken offensively -- and by the way, calling an African-American male articulate is also something that sounds a little bit like code to people. Just say I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I didn't mean it that way.

Let's talk about it with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Welcome back to PRIME TIME. Always good for you to take the opportunity.

I know we must agree on this. If you said something to me or about me you that heard that I was offended by and you realized it could be taken that way, wouldn't you apologize?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Chris, I've done that, as you know, on numerous occasions. And look, I've made many mistakes on television which I don't like to admit but, of course, it happens on live TV and we see it all the time with anchors who have to say things that they have to walk back after or guests who come on television to say things --

CUOMO: All right. So what about DeSantis?

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, look, if Ron DeSantis said something that offended his general election opponent then should apologize to that person. That's up to Ron.

CUOMO: But he did. He said monkey this up. I don't -- I've never even heard that phrase before. I don't even know how it makes sense. Monkey this up.

LEWANDOWSKI: You know, look, I think sometimes, you know, people get heated and they get stuck on certain words that people say and they want --

CUOMO: So, he should apologize.

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, that's up to Ron to do if that's what he wants to do. But the point is, the voters are going to have the opportunity in Florida to make a clear decision, a candidate that Trump supports or a candidate that Bernie Sanders supports. A candidate that wants Florida to go forward or a candidate that wants to embrace socialism. That's up to the Florida voters to decide. CUOMO: Yes, I'm fine with all that. But why can't it be decent? You

know what I mean? I test you all the time. Sometimes you like it, sometimes you don't.

I never come at you personally. Why? It's a battle of ideas. That's how I show respect to the discussion. Even if I don't like what I'm hearing, even if I do.

Why can't it be that way? We don't say monkey this up. We don't say if the GOP loses, there will be violence to preachers. Go to the pulpit and warn the faithful, there will be violence.

Why pander to that us versus them anger? Why say things like that? Be clean. Be straight. Argue your points. If you win, you win. If you lose you lose.

Why? Why does the president say that? Why does DeSantis say that?

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, Chris, I think what's important to remember is the great opportunity is in November to go to the ballot box and vote for what you think is important for this country. And if you believe that many people do that, Bernie Sanders and socialism is the way we want to take our country, you have the opportunity to vote for those people. If you believe the way I do, that we're the greatest country in the world, that we're a capitalist society, that our economy is stronger than ever, that unemployment for African-Americans and Hispanics and young people are at the lowest levels ever recorded, then you'll return Republicans back to Congress.

That's what the ballot's all about.

CUOMO: But why can't you be all of those things of substance and also focus on style and be decent, be human, be civil to people, be kind, be compassionate? Why can't that be conservative?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, honestly because, Chris, we've seen it many, many, many times. We've seen it on this network. We've seen it on many networks, where hosts on certain shows have called Trump supporters racists. They've called them things that --

CUOMO: So isn't that wrong?

LEWANDOWSKI: Absolutely it's wrong, but we didn't see --

CUOMO: So why echo it?

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Chris, we didn't see apologies from those hosts. And it hasn't been covered.

CUOMO: But even if that were all true, which by the way I don't think it is, but even if it were --

LEWANDOWSKI: It is true.

CUOMO: But even if it were, I'll give you the benefit of that fact, why would you do the same thing? LEWANDOWSKI: So let's tone down the rhetoric on both sides.

CUOMO: Why don't you start? You're the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Why would you play to the lowest common denominator instead of setting the highest standard?

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, this president has a record to run on. His agenda is on the ballot come November, and people are going to decide if they love what he has done, which they should. Economic security, homeland security, national security, economic security -- those are all the things he has put before the voters to decide if that's what they want. And, by and large, by every measure that you can look at, we are better off today than we were two years ago --

CUOMO: How can you say that with the acrimony, the tone, and the tenor --

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, 29 percent of African-Americans --

CUOMO: -- he has helped promote in this country?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, 29 percent of African-Americans according to the latest poll are supporting Donald Trump. To put that in historical perspective, Mitt Romney and John McCain combined got about 3 percent of the African-American vote.

He is getting more votes from the African-American community because what he has done, which is to lift everybody up through economic security --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with economic security. You understand my point. And I get the talking point. But I just want to kind of come together with a little closure, a little synthesis here at the end. It's not an either/or. That's what I'm saying to you, my friend. I'm saying it's both.

You can raise the economy and not talk about NFL players that way. You can raise the economy and not create division between race and different people that way. You don't have to do one to do the other. That's my point.

Don't you agree with that?

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Chris, I agree but you have to remember, people in America have fought and died for the opportunity to salute that flag, to put their hand over their heart and say we love this country --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: And part of the right is to also protest. They're not burning the flag. They're not doing things to desecrate the flag --

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, not when you're an employee -- when you're an employee of a company and the rules are that you stand, you can choose not to work for that --

CUOMO: It doesn't mean you hate America. That's my point. Say you disagree. That's fine. Say they shouldn't do it. Go after the NFL. That's fine.

LEWANDOWSKI: And he -- and the president has done that.

CUOMO: But to say they're not American. To say they're SOBs and they should leave. I'm just telling you, Corey, I just don't know where it gets us. But I'll tell you what --

LEWANDOWSKI: I do think that the American people stand with the president and say we should stand up, put our hand over our heart and respect the flag that our forefathers died for to give us the privilege to be the greatest country in the world.

CUOMO: And even if they did, even if it were 99-1, this country is about respecting the rights of the minority as much as the majority if they're not hurting anybody else.

LEWANDOWSKI: There are time and place for all of that.

CUOMO: You don't cast them out. That's all I'm saying. Decency can also be part of an agenda and you can still have a booming economy.

Corey Lewandowski, always appreciate you being here to make the case. Thank you.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So, this morning what did we see? This point that I'm making right now. Instead of just making an agenda point, a policy point, a political argument, the president floats an unsubstantiated, literally wild claim. OK? The FBI had to accept in and debunk it.

I wish I could say I was kidding. I wish I could say I was smart enough to make up things this absurd. But I can't. Sometimes, the facts are stranger than fiction. And I have them for you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: I have to loosen up my neck up this one.

The 2016 election has been in our rearview mirror for about two years. President Trump still believes it is fertile ground, especially Hillary Clinton and her server. So, last night, he tweeted without any evidence that China hacked her servers.

Now, by the way, China is a bunch of hackers. OK? They have a huge cadre of people involved in this action. They try and scoop up data from so many different realms. True.

But he made it in light of the Russia investigation. OK? He then said the FBI and DOJ need to move on the issue or else their credibility will be forever gone. And he told his 51 million Twitter followers that this is a very big story.

And it would be if it were true. But it's not. Now, how do we know? An official with the FBI tells CNN the FBI has not found any evidence the servers were compromised. To which someone who's believing in Trump would say, have they found evidence that it wasn't the Chinese? You can't prove the non-existence of a fact that is only fodder for conspiracies.

And if you want to play that game, look at the timing. The president's tweets came just after the conservative "Daily Caller" posted a story with the server hack claims.

Don Lemon is standing by.

I mean, look, you can't make it up. The timing is there. The FBI stepped up. Here's what bothers me. He spent so much time taking a sledgehammer to the FBI that now, when they say we have no proof it was the Chinese, what do people think?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Ah, well, the hardcore supporters are going to think what the president says. Most people know better in this country. They know better. They believe our intelligence agencies.

Here's -- this is what -- this is what just really flummoxes me all the time is the president has access to the best intelligence in the world and people around him. He did the same thing with the white farmers. Remember he saw that with white farmers.

CUOMO: Yes.

LEMON: -- in South Africa. Totally wrong, totally bogus story. He did the same thing where he says, I've been wiretapped Trump Tower Obama. Totally wrong, totally bogus.

No one -- it's conspiracy theories that he sees on the Trump channel and he pushes it out to his base and it becomes this echo chamber of people who believe it. If you actually read and see the fact checks and you know what's going on, you don't believe it.

You know the FBI is right. There's no evidence, which means it didn't happen.

CUOMO: Don, I literally have nothing to add. I will see you at the top of the hour.

LEMON: I see you. We have good stuff coming up. So, I won't take your time. But make sure you tune in.

CUOMO: Appreciate it, bud.

LEMON: All right. See you.

CUOMO: The president went and met with the evangelical leaders and he told them, you better help me, otherwise, there's going to be violence if things don't go our way in the election. Now, what do you think of that?

On top of it, there's something he said that I'm going to argue is very, very true. You probably won't agree until the end. Closing, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: As I've said a few times tonight, President Trump is sticking by his suggestion that a GOP loss in the midterms will equal blood in the streets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just hope there won't be violence. I can tell you that -- I can tell you -- because that's the way, I guess, if you look at what happened, there's a lot of unnecessary violence all over the world, but also in this country. And I don't want to see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Well, then, he shouldn't suggest that it will happen. And also, logic dictates if the left were to win, why would there be any violence? Where would be the grudge?

Put logic aside. After what he told evangelical leaders at the White House, we now hear this. Now, he hasn't been seen going to services in a very long time, but he talked to these preachers and said, I need you to help me. Come see me. And they did.

And he then put out this serious threat warning, quote: they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa -- these people are violent.

OK? That's the point he made. He also made these evangelical leaders stakeholders, not in a moral way, but in a help me if you want more kind of way. He reminded them he signed an executive order last year to allow religious groups to become more politically active and added, quote, you have to hopefully get out and get people to support us. If you don't, that will be the beginning of ending everything that you've gotten. You've gotten it very quickly.

Now, we can easily parse the B.S. first. Members of Antifa that turn to violence are thugs, OK? But Antifa is not another word for Democrats. If the Democrats take the House, again, simple logic, they win. They have the power. They wouldn't need to force anything, let alone be violent.

The Senate would still be a bloc. That's the process. God willing if we're going to talk about religion, they compromise and do something for the rest of us. Maybe the president should be praying for that.

But Trump is right. Here's my main argument. He's totally right that he needs the preachers. He needs their help. Now, I know most are attacking him for crossing the line of church and

state. And I know that many of us go to services or mass to get something better than party politics. And I know many denominations don't let their leaders peddle politics from the pulpit. I get all of that. I'm arguing a different point.

The president needs the help to bring this country together because he is unwilling and/or unable to do it. We need to be reminded of our interconnectedness and interdependence. So, we need all the P's, preachers, priests, parents, people of goodwill, preach about decency if that's what you do, about the Golden Rule.

And if you don't ascribe to a higher power, the message of ethical humanism and care for the collective and integrity in words and purpose is just as powerful. If you don't preach, you don't lead a group, talk to your kids, talk to your friends, who any that you have that think before they speak. Remind those around you that what Trump is doing here, if you lose -- there's violence, violence, the same man who thinks it's funny or worse, effective, to whip up a crowd by encouraging beat-downs of dissenters and saying the media is the enemy and all the other manifestations of bias he can muster when it suits him.

All of it can be checked on Sunday and every day of the week thereafter by the rest of us. Let's see if that idea can get an amen.

Thank you for watching me tonight.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now